Open Praxis vol. 9 issue 3
Inés Gil-Jaurena 0
0 Editorial board Hemlata Chari, University of Mumbai, India Gangappa Kuruba, University of Botswana, Botswana Thomas P. Mackey, SUNY Empire State College , New York , United States Alan Tait , The Open University, United Kingdom Belinda Tynan, RMIT University , Melbourne, Australia Joel Warrican , University of the West Indies, Barbados Yang Zhijian, Open University of China (OUC) , China
INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL FOR OPEN AND DISTANCE EDUCATION
Open Praxis is a peer-reviewed open access scholarly journal focusing on research and innovation in open, distance and
flexible education. It is published by the International Council for Open and Distance Education—ICDE
The aim of Open Praxis is to provide a forum for global collaboration and discussion of issues in the practice of
distance and e-learning.
Open Praxis welcomes contributions which demonstrate creative and innovative research, and which highlight
challenges, lessons and achievements in the practice of distance and e-learning from all over the world.
Open Praxis provides immediate open access to content on the principle that making research freely available to the
public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge.
Inés Gil-Jaurena, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Spain
Beatriz Malik, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Spain
Publisher and contact information
ICDE—International Council for Open and Distance Education
0283 Oslo, Norway
The ICDE Bulletin changed its name to Open Praxis in 1993. In 2003 became an electronic journal. In 2011 Open Praxis
is relaunched as an scholarly and peer-reviewed open access journal, hosted by Universidad Nacional de Educación a
Distancia (UNED) in its first period (2011–2017).
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
a. Authors retain copyright and grant Open Praxis right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that allows others to share the work with an
acknowledgement of the work’s authorship and initial publication in Open Praxis.
b. Authors also grant ICDE right to publish a printed compendium of Open Praxis published articles in an annual
c. Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of
the journal’s published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository), with an acknowledgement
of its initial publication in Open Praxis.
Open Praxis does not necessarily agree with opinions and judgements maintained by authors
Introduction to Open Praxis volume 9 issue 3
Metaliteracy as Pedagogical Framework for Learner-Centered Design in Three MOOC
Platforms: Connectivist, Coursera and Canvas
Kelsey L. O’Brien, Michele Forte, Thomas P. Mackey, Trudi E. Jacobson
Higher Education Lecturers’ Lived Experience of Going Public in MOOCs
Distance Education Examination Management in a Lowly Resourced
North-Eastern Region of Zambia: A Phenomenological Approach
Francis Simui, Henry Chibale, Boniface Namangala
Academic Workload Planning for Open and Distance Learning (ODL) Universities:
The Experience of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN)
Juliet Obhajajie Inegbedion
Developing Self-Efficacy through a Massive Open Online Course on Study Skills
Brenda Cecilia Padilla Rodriguez, Alejandro Armellini
Open Access Research Via Collaborative Educational Blogging:
A Case Study from Library & Information Science
Kristen Radsliff Rebmann, Camden Bernard Clark
Book review of Revolution in Higher Education
Jennifer Anna Kepka
Introduction to Open Praxis volume 9 issue 3
Editor for Open Praxis. Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia - UNED (Spain)
This third Open Praxis issue in 2017 is an open issue that includes six research papers and a
book review. Fourteen authors from six countries (the United States of America, Sweden, Zambia,
Nigeria, Mexico and the United Kingdom) have contributed to this issue, presenting their research
and innovation in open, distance and flexible education.
In the first paper (Metaliteracy as Pedagogical Framework for Learner-Centered Design in
Three MOOC Platforms: Connectivist, Coursera and Canvas), Kelsey L. O’Brien, Michele Forte,
Thomas P. Mackey and Trudi E. Jacobson from SUNY (USA) present their study based on three
Metaliteracy massive open online courses they have developed in three platforms (one as cMOOC
and two as xMOOCs). They thoroughly report on the experience and analyze learners’ active
roles as participants, contributors and teachers, using metaliteracy as a lens. The discussion
and conclusions are of interest to course designers willing to generate active online spaces and
processes for learners.
Also dealing with MOOCs, Ulf Olsson from Stockholm University introduces teachers’ perspectives
in his paper Higher Education Lecturers’ Lived Experience of Going Public in MOOCs. This qualitative
interview-based study reports on the experience of 20 Swedish professors who have been involved
in MOOCs. The paper focuses on five issues and concerns emerged in the analysis: being in front of
a camera for shooting the MOOC videos, language (as non native speakers of English), being online
forever, quality and intellectual property rights. It also explores the pros and cons of developing
MOOCs identified by the lecturers, and provides valuable reflections and ideas for other professors
and organizations planning to go public.
The next two papers refer to relevant aspects in the management of distance education –
examinations and academic workload– based on two institutional cases.
In the first case (Distance Education Examination Management in a Lowly Resourced
NorthEastern Region of Zambia: A Phenomenological Approach), Francis Simui, Henry Chibale and
Boniface Namangala explore the way that decentralized distance education examinations take place
in regional centres. Their interpretative study, based on Chaos Theory, collects information from
both examination facilitators and students. It identifies challenges that lead to distress during the
examination process, and the strategies put into practice to overcome the critical situations. The
paper finishes with a set of recommendations that their institution and others facing similar concerns
could assume in order to improve the examination process and thus the quality of their programmes.
In the second case study [Academic Workload Planning for Open and Distance Learning (ODL)
Universities: The Experience of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN)], Juliet O. Inegbedion
explores existing workload models and literature and undertakes a survey-based study, focusing on
two aspects: the activities developed by academic staff and their satisfaction with those activities. After
providing an overview of the situation at NOUN, she introduces a workload model and applies it in
NOUN as an example. Finally, she suggests some recommendations to be considered institutionally
with regards to academic workload.
The last two papers are focused on two course experiences aimed at developing soft skills among
In the first one (Developing Self-Efficacy through a Massive Open Online Course on Study Skills),
Brenda Cecilia Padilla Rodriguez and Alejandro Armellini, from Mexico and UK respectively, report
on a MOOC on study skills originally designed for first-year students, covering aspects such as time
management, information search or academic writing. They analyzed learners’ pre and post MOOC
self-efficacy, finding that MOOC participants improved their confidence in their own skills for success,
self-motivation, learning regulation, endurance and goal achievement. So, the authors highlight the
potential of MOOCs for improving learners’ skills at scale.
In the second paper focused on a course experience (Open Access Research Via Collaborative
Educational Blogging: A Case Study from Library & Information Science), Kristen Radsliff Rebmann
and Camden Bernard Clark from the USA explore an innovative practice addressed to developing
the skills of understanding open access and searching for open access literature. They do so by a
collaborative blogging assignment in six distance LIS courses for graduate students. With a concern
with the sustainability of the blog beyond the course timeline, the authors clearly describe the
experience and highlight lessons learned.
Finally, the issue includes a review by Jennifer Anna Kepka of the book Revolution in Higher
Education: How a small band of innovators will make college accessible and affordable, authored by
Richard DeMillo and published in 2015 by MIT Press.
We wish these papers will encourage our readers to also reflect and innovate in open, distance
and flexible education.
Special thanks from Open Praxis to the authors and reviewers who have contributed to this issue.
Papers are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Metaliteracy as Pedagogical Framework for
Learner-Centered Design in Three MOOC Platforms:
Connectivist, Coursera and Canvas
Kelsey L. O’Brien , Michele Forte , Thomas P. Mackey & Trudi E. Jacobson
State University of New York (USA)
, , &
This article examines metaliteracy as a pedagogical model that leverages the assets of MOOC platforms
to enhance self-regulated and self-empowered learning. Between 2013 and 2015, a collaborative teaching
team within the State University of New York (SUNY) developed three MOOCs on three different platforms—
connectivist, Coursera and Canvas—to engage with learners about metaliteracy. As a reframing of information
literacy, metaliteracy envisions the learner as an active and metacognitive producer of digital information in
online communities and social media environments (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011; 2014). This team of educators,
which constitutes the core of the Metaliteracy Learning Collaborative, used metaliteracy as a lens for applied
teaching and learning strategies in the development of a cMOOC and two xMOOCs. The metaliteracy MOOCs
pushed against the dominant trends of lecture-based, automated MOOC design towards a more
learnercentered pedagogy that aligns with key components of metaliteracy.
Since the coining of the term “Massive Open Online Course” (MOOC) nearly a decade ago
(Siemens, 2012), MOOCs have unlocked countless learning experiences, breaking down geographic
and socioeconomic barriers to connect a global classroom of learners. Likewise, MOOCs have
provided exciting opportunities for educators to extend their reach and broaden their instructional
impact beyond the walls of the classroom. Despite the technological evolution of MOOCs, however,
the pedagogy supported by MOOC platforms suggests a more backward trajectory from
studentcentered, networked learning to a more traditional hub-and-spoke model that revolves around the
instructor. How might educators leverage the unique assets of MOOC platforms to enhance and
transform, rather than compromise, our teaching?
An examination of the connectivist theory that propelled the creation of the first MOOCs provides
insight into their potential. Connectivism is a “network-based pedagogy” underpinned by the theory
that “knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of
the ability to construct and traverse those networks” (Downes, 2007). While the original connectivist
or “cMOOCs” were decentralized models that encouraged collective participatory learning and
usergenerated content, the university-sponsored “xMOOC” platforms that became prominent in 2012,
such as edX, Coursera and Udacity, diverged from cMOOCs in their focus on scalable content delivery
using video lectures, automated assessments, and quizzes (Siemens, 2012; Pappano, 2012). In
contrast to the organic, collaborative, and fluid nature of cMOOCs, the structured, centralized,
and presentation-oriented environments perpetuated by dominant xMOOC platforms overlook the
opportunities envisioned by the original MOOCs to engage students in valuable self-directed learning
Scholarship on hybrid and blended MOOCs (Anders, 2015; Fidalgo-Blanco, Sein-Echaluce,
& García-Peñalvo, 2016; Dubosson & Emad, 2015) and emerging MOOC taxonomies (Pilli &
Admiraal, 2016) demonstrates a growing awareness of the need to revisit and re-incorporate
foundational connectivist features into the prominent xMOOC platforms. Leveraging the
networked nature of MOOCs, scholars have identified the value of decentralized learning models
for fostering self-regulation competencies such as evaluative decision-making, adaptability and
self-reflective learning (Siemens, 2012; Littlejohn, Hood, Milligan, & Mustain, 2016; Terras &
Ramsay, 2015). However, they have also identified a lack of self-regulated learning skills as a
potential barrier to student success in these environments (Terras & Ramsay, 2015; Littlejohn
et al., 2016).
Thus, the globally interconnected nature of MOOCs provides a promising, but troublesome
learning environment. When designed with students as the central drivers of their learning,
MOOCs can foster important lifelong learning competencies related to self-regulation and
learner agency. This decentralized learning model, however, calls for a supportive pedagogy that
addresses the learning processes needed for students to take on active roles as participants,
contributors and teachers.
In this paper we build on the argument for self-regulation not only as a means to an end (i.e.
MOOC completion), but as an important lifelong learning skill that can be fostered and practiced
through learner-centered participation in MOOCs. We use metaliteracy as a framework to address
the challenges of learner-centered MOOC design through a consideration of the following research
1. How can we leverage MOOC platforms to promote learner-centered pedagogy based on a
2. How might metaliteracy be applied as a pedagogical strategy for supporting self-regulated
learning in MOOCs?
In exploration of these questions we draw from our experiences designing and implementing three
metaliteracy MOOCs on three different platforms—connectivist, Coursera, and Canvas—that pushed
against the dominant trends of lecture-based, automated MOOC design.
Metaliteracy, which emerged around the same time that MOOCs were beginning to gain
mainstream appeal (Pappano, 2012), offers a valuable framework for empowered learning in
complex interconnected learning environments. According to the initial conception of this framework,
“Metaliteracy expands the scope of information literacy as more than a set of discrete skills,
challenging us to rethink information literacy as active knowledge production and distribution in
collaborative online communities” (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011, p. 64). The emergence of social media
and online networks influenced this theoretical shift from the skills development generally associated
with traditional approaches to information literacy, to knowledge acquisition in collaborative and
participatory environments. Rather than simply create a new literacy type for an isolated purpose or
based on the emergence of a specific technology, metaliteracy redefines information literacy as an
overarching and fluid model that prepares learners to engage as critical and adaptive participants in
an expanding landscape of socially constructed and technology-mediated information environments.
While connectivism frames the learning processes that occur in networked environments, metaliteracy
can support this framework to inform teaching practices across myriad interconnected learning
landscapes (Dunaway, 2011, p.680).
The creation of three Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) based on the metaliteracy
framework provides a unique opportunity to trace the arc of metaliterate teaching and learning in
these collaborative spaces. What began as an exploration of MOOCs ultimately led to a comparison
of pedagogical experiences in three different MOOC platforms. In 2013, core members of the
Metaliteracy Learning Collaborative developed the original Metaliteracy MOOC, a connectivist MOOC
created in-house using Stephen Downes’ open gRSShopper programming (http://metaliteracy.
cdlprojects.com). We followed this project in 2014 with a Coursera MOOC entitled Metaliteracy:
Empowering Yourself in a Connected World (https://www.coursera.org/learn/metaliteracy), as well as
a Canvas MOOC, Empowering Yourself as a Digital Citizen (https://learn.canvas.net/courses/591).
The first half of this paper applies metaliteracy as a conceptual framework to address the challenges
of learner-centered MOOC design. In the second section, we offer specific examples of how we
applied metaliteracy as a pedagogical strategy in both cMOOC and xMOOC platforms to enhance
the engaged and participatory components of metaliterate learning.
The Value of Learner-Centered MOOC Design
Connectivism: from cMOOCs to xMOOCs
Connectivism served as both the content and the underlying pedagogy for the original MOOC,
Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008
(Siemens, 2012). Siemens’ (2005) connectivist learning theory asserts that the fluidity and transience
of online environments challenge the learner to continuously adapt to changing technologies and to
make meaning from multiple resources. Learning in this context requires both an awareness of the
space itself as well as critical thinking about information sources.
According to Siemens (2012), the MOOCs he developed with Stephen Downes “are informed by
connectivist views of learning, namely, that knowledge is distributed and learning is the process of
navigating, growing, and pruning connections” (section 1). In this context, individuals make meaning
through the critical navigation of these decentralized spaces while connecting information and gaining
knowledge with others. According to Downes, the distinctive value of MOOCs originated not from the
content, but in the learning processes themselves. Therefore, connectivism asserts that educators
should “treat learning as the formation of connections” as opposed to the acquisition of knowledge
(Downes, 2011, para. 6).
With the emergence of university-sponsored MOOC platforms in 2012, a distinction was made
between the original connectivist or “cMOOCs,” and “xMOOCs” such as Coursera, Udacity and
edX that served as extensions of core university offerings (Pappano, 2012; Downes, 2013). While
xMOOCs, as defined by Downes (2013), include open resources intended to reach wide audiences,
the pedagogical approach is not inherently networked, collaborative, or adaptive in the same way
as in cMOOCs. According to Siemens (2012), “The Coursera/EDx MOOCs adopt a traditional view
of knowledge and learning” that is not reflected in the networked pedagogy of cMOOCs. Siemens
argued that “Instead of distributed knowledge networks, their MOOCs are based on a hub and
spoke model: the faculty/knowledge at the centre and the learners are replicators or duplicators of
knowledge” (section 2).
Thus, despite the continuing advancement of MOOC technology, xMOOC platforms tend to
remain fixed in the authoritarian, prescriptive banking model against which Paulo Freire (1970/2000)
famously argued nearly a half-century ago. The lecture-focused structure of xMOOCs situates
students as passive “‘receptacles’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher,” perpetuating what Freire referred to
as the mechanical memorization of narrated content (p. 72). Freire proposed that authentic learning
is not passive skills acquisition, but rather a dialogue in which learners connect to each other and
to the world around them, working in collaboration with their teachers as co-creators of knowledge.
The connected nature of cMOOCs thus better supports Freire’s thinking that “Knowledge emerges
only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry
human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (p. 72).
In his milestone piece on connectivism, Siemens (2005) identifies 21st century learning
competencies that can be fostered through connectivist learning, particularly decision-making,
adaptability to changing information landscapes, and pattern-recognition between ideas, concepts
and fields of knowledge (Connectivism section). Downes (2011) reinforced this framework and
its specific application to MOOC platforms, pointing out the value of learners as practitioners and
teachers, and emphasizing that “the process of taking the course is itself much more important than
the content participants may happen to learn in the course” (para. 9).
In the transition from cMOOCs to xMOOCs, the main dilemma lies in the fact that students are
not making these connections themselves. Siemens (2012) asserted that “When an instructor does
for learners what learners do for themselves, the learning experience is incomplete” (section 8).
As opposed to the aggregated format of connectivist MOOCs that facilitate distributed knowledge
networks, the dominant MOOC delivery platforms are more focused on scalable content delivery, and
are structured around video lectures or “talking heads” that leave little room for learner interaction
and agency. As Downes (2011) asserted, “When we focus on the content of a discipline...we learn
the words, but not the dance” (final para.).
The driving question of cMOOCs, according to Siemens (2012), is “What can learners do for
themselves with digital tools and networks?” (section 8). If MOOCs provide a unique opportunity for
students to practice self-regulation and self-directed learning, the applied pedagogy should focus
less on content delivery and more on learning processes, or, in other words, helping students learn
how to learn. This distinction necessitates a shift beyond the teacher-centered hub-and-spoke model
to a pedagogy that maximizes the networked nature of MOOCs and allows students to make their
Hybrid MOOCs: shifting towards learner-centered design
Emerging blended MOOC taxonomies that incorporate connectivist features into xMOOC platforms
acknowledge the necessary shift towards a more learner-centered MOOC design. The literature
examines a taxonomy of MOOCs that includes both cMOOC and xMOOC modes, among others (Pilli
& Admiraal, 2016), and hybrid MOOC design (Anders, 2015; Fidalgo-Blanco et al., 2016). Additionally,
distinct elements of the MOOC environment, such as the online forum, were studied as connectivist
features that support community building and collaborative knowledge creation in the xMOOC
platform (Dubosson & Emad, 2015).
A review of the literature reveals both the promising potential and the complex challenges of
student-centered learning in MOOCs. Researchers identified the need for learner support in cMOOCs
(Li, Tang, & Zhang, 2016), and the changing role of facilitators in the connectivist modality (Skrypnyk,
Joksimović, Kovanović, Gaševic & Dawson, 2015). Researchers also conducted a comparative
analysis of popular xMOOC formats (Conache, Dima & Mutu, 2016; Funieru & Lăzăroiu, 2016), but
this work has not always included cMOOCs as part of the evaluation. While the literature tends to
focus on the features and characteristics of the cMOOC or xMOOC formats, with some exploration
of hybrid design and completion rates, an analysis of one specific theme or pedagogical model
across these three distinct platforms does not exist. Furthermore, while the trends towards more
learner-centered MOOC design point to the potential benefits of this model, there is a need for further
analysis on the abilities, as described by Downes (2011), required to make meaningful connections
in these environments.
Learner agency and self-regulation: opportunities and challenges
Siemens (2012) asserted that “MOOCs foster not only a particular type of knowledge in a particular
area of inquiry; they also foster a self-regulated, motivated, and autonomous learner” (section 8).
These same competencies, however, can also serve as barriers to learning in MOOCs.
Self-regulated learning is identified as a key determinant for student success in MOOCs (Terras &
Ramsay, 2015; Littlejohn et al., 2016). Terras and Ramsay (2015) addressed the psychological
challenges of MOOCs, asserting that “the greater autonomy that e-learning offers also presents
challenges to the e-learner as the burden of regulating learning is carried by the student rather
than the instructor” (p.478). The flexible nature of MOOCs, lack of direct instructor feedback,
and distractions of other online activities (Terras & Ramsay, 2015; Littlejohn et al., 2016) “places
the onus on individual learners to create and navigate their own learning journey” (Littlejohn et al.,
2016, p. 40).
Terras and Ramsay (2015) advocated for a heutagogical approach to MOOC pedagogy, as defined
by Hase and Kenyon (2007) in which the learner is conceptualized “as the major agent in their own
learning” (Terras & Ramsay, p. 480). Due to the wide variability of learner profiles and motivations,
exacerbated by massive enrollments, it is impossible for the instructor to address the needs of every
learner; therefore the pedagogy calls for the learner to take more responsibility for their own learning
(Terras & Ramsay, 2015, p. 480).
It follows then that students with strong self-regulation skills are more likely to be successful in
MOOCs. Littlejohn et al.’s (2016) study found that students who scored higher on self-regulated
learning (SRL) assessments tended to be more successful and satisfied with their learning
experiences. For example, students with higher SRL scores used assignments and peer discussions
to reflect on their learning processes, and measured their achievements based on knowledge and
expertise development rather than on completion and assessment scores (p. 46). This example
illustrates the benefits of self-regulated learning not only for completion, but also for the quality of
the learning experience.
However, some base level of self-regulation is needed in order to glean the benefits of
studentdriven learning. Students enter MOOCs with varying self-regulation abilities (Littlejohn et al., 2016)
and psychosocial and cognitive characteristics related to engagement, motivation, and ability to
selfmonitor (Terras & Ramsay, 2015, p. 477). Therefore, the self-regulating competencies that can be
fostered by learner-centered MOOCs can also act as barriers when they are absent from a learner’s
Given the potential benefits and challenges related to self-regulation, learner-centered MOOCs
require a pedagogy that not only enables learner self-agency, but also provides scaffolding and
support for the learning processes involved, regardless of a learner’s baseline abilities. As disparate
yet connected resources external to the individual, MOOCs require the learner to make ongoing
associations within these spaces, including dialogue with other participants. This approach reflects
the nature of the Web as a hyper-connected and social environment, inspiring an associated
pedagogy that is facilitated on a larger scale with a community of users interacting with each other
and contributing to a collective learning space.
The ability to navigate complex learning environments, differentiate between dissimilar forms of
information, and promote critical thinking are fundamental tenets both of information literacy, and of
the successive conception of metaliteracy. However, metaliteracy shifts the focus not only to more
active learner roles, but also more directly onto the learning itself. In the following sections, we
propose metaliteracy as a lens for critically exploring an enhanced MOOC pedagogy that places
students at the center and empowers them to make connections to their learning.
Applying Metaliteracy as Learner-Centered Pedagogy
Metacognition and self-regulation
In Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners, Mackey and Jacobson (2014)
argue that: “A metacognitive approach to information literacy allows us to move beyond rudimentary
skills development and prepares students to dig deeper and assess their own learning” (p. 13). This
approach extends metacognitive learning to social media environments and open learning spaces,
including MOOCs, as a strategy for success that allows one to continuously reflect and learn, and not
just gain skills. Terras and Ramsay (2015) call for prioritized research on metacognition in MOOCs (p.
484), citing its importance in relation to self-regulation: “Meta-cognition captures the ability to reflect
on how we think and learn, and students who apply metacognitive reflection, especially those who
are highly self-regulated and accept responsibility for directing their own learning are more effective
learners” (p. 479).
As a pedagogy, metaliteracy encourages learners to claim ownership of their learning as they
take on more active roles in online environments. Paul Prinsloo (2016) has discussed metaliteracy in
relation to Freire’s concept of praxis (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 52):
“...metaliteracy-as-praxis can benefit from creating and being a space for different voices from
different disciplinary backgrounds who question, engage, critique, and make sense of what it
means to be human, participate in the discourses of the day, and live dignified lives” (Prinsloo,
2016, p. 191).
As such, the online environment itself is a reflective space for individuals to create and share ideas
while gaining critical thinking perspectives about their learning. Doing so also expands understanding
about our network of ever-changing information technologies and how to effectively adapt to and
navigate within these environments as active participants. Rather than simply teaching students how
to use a particular technology, for instance, metaliteracy promotes a deeper approach to learning
through collaboration, reflection, and critical thinking.
Metacognition is a key learning domain within metaliteracy. Metaliteracy as a pedagogy can
therefore support the connectivist focus on autonomous and self-regulated learners, as learners
who do not reflect on their thinking and learning are incapable of self-regulation.
Metaliteracy and connectivism
Siemens (2012) explores eight areas in which connectivist MOOCs differ from those that are offered
by platforms such as Coursera and edX. The overlap between some of these areas and metaliteracy
in general is striking. Leaving aside the first area, which emphasizes the connectivist component
whose relationship to metaliteracy was addressed above, other areas with correspondences include
generative knowledge; distributed, multi-spaced interactions; and autonomous and self-regulated
Connectivism and metaliteracy are similar from a pedagogical perspective because of the shared
emphasis on the critical evaluation of information in open and social media environments, and the
active role that participants play as knowledge creators in these spaces. According to Michelle
Kathleen Dunaway (2011),
“the parallels between the principles of connectivism and emerging frameworks for information
literacy suggest that connectivism as a theory of learning and information literacy as a concept may
exist in a synergetic relationship, in which each is strengthened by the other” (p. 683).
The author describes this association between connectivism as a learning theory and metaliteracy as
an emerging framework (along with transliteracy) that has reimagined the conception of information
literacy in digital environments. Dunaway argues:
“Metaliteracy and transliteracy are frameworks for understanding information literacy that emphasize
the importance of communities, connections, information networks, and information technologies;
these concepts are central to the principal of the theory of connectivism, which postulates that
communities, connections, information networks, and information technologies are central to the
learning process” (p. 680).
Metaliteracy also shares an affinity with connectivism in its emphasis on the collaborative nature of
technology-mediated environments that feature open resources and social media. Distributed,
multispaced interactions are central to connectivist MOOCs, and to connectivism itself, as it sees learning
as “a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources” (Siemens, 2005). Metaliteracy
highlights the importance of being able to navigate information environments regardless of format,
and having the ability to operate fluently within them. Metaliterate learners in these connected spaces
need to be empowered critical thinkers that adapt to changing technologies, evaluate a variety of
information sources, and learn to produce and share original and repurposed information.
The common threads found in both metaliteracy and connectivism influenced the selection of the
cMOOC format as the first Metaliteracy MOOC. At the same time, the xMOOCs also offered promising
features that allowed the ongoing development of metaliteracy to expand in two additional open online
environments that offered distinct challenges and learning opportunities. In the following sections, we
provide examples of how the tenants of metaliteracy were applied to enhance pedagogical design
and practices in three MOOCs on three different platforms.
Metaliteracy MOOCs: Overview
In late spring, 2013, members of the Metaliteracy Learning Collaborative, a SUNY-wide think tank and
incubator for investigating and promoting metaliteracy, began to explore the development of a MOOC
focused on metaliteracy. The open nature of a MOOC with the opportunity to disseminate information
about metaliteracy was appealing. Our goal was to provide an opportunity for learners to become familiar
with the new concept of metaliteracy, while at the same time developing their own metaliterate abilities.
The original Metaliteracy MOOC (http://metaliteracy.cdlprojects.com) was a connectivist MOOC
that used the gRSShopper programming created by MOOC pioneer Stephen Downes to aggregate
participant blog postings and other social media contributions within daily news feeds. The cMOOC’s
front end web site provided information about the MOOC itself, the schedule associated with the course,
a list of blogs established by course participants, a feedlist, which harvested posts from those blogs as
well as Diigo posts tagged for the course, and Twitter messages tagged with the metaliteracy hashtag.
This MOOC was used as the basis for credit-bearing courses at the two institutions represented by
the authors: one undergraduate, and one graduate. This decision required a structured course overlay
not usually associated with the open connectivist format, including a learning contract that fulfilled
some elements of a course syllabus (http://metaliteracy.cdlprojects.com/week9.htm). The MOOC,
which focused on eight topics, ran from September to mid-December in order to mirror an academic
We followed and expanded on this project with a 2014 Coursera MOOC entitled Metaliteracy:
Empowering Yourself in a Connected World (https://www.coursera.org/learn/metaliteracy). At the
time, the State University of New York system and Coursera were negotiating the role SUNY would
play in Coursera offerings. While there were other MOOC platforms from which to choose, we were
aware that Coursera was well established, and had considerably influenced the design, pedagogy,
and delivery of xMOOCs worldwide. Thus the xMOOC format expanded opportunities for engaging
with metaliteracy concepts to a more global audience. The Coursera platform was a relatively
straightforward and somewhat prescriptive design venture, with options for video, discussions, peer
assignments, and integrated quizzes. The final MOOC design included ten modules, each one week
long, with topical readings and multi-format videos created by the design team.
The third metaliteracy MOOC, Empowering Yourself as a Digital Citizen (https://learn.canvas.
net/courses/591), emerged out of an unexpected setback in the creation of the Coursera MOOC.
Although we planned to integrate an existing competency-based digital badging system ( https://
metaliteracybadges.org) into the Coursera MOOC, we were unable to do so based on technical
limitations of the Coursera platform. Canvas’s flexible pedagogical approach and modular
design structure provided the ideal platform for experimenting with badge integration. The
thirdparty Canvabadges app (since replaced by Badgr) enabled students to earn a digital token
of achievement for each successfully completed module. While the ten-week Coursera MOOC
guided learners through the full spectrum of metaliteracy learning objectives, the Canvas MOOC
was oriented more specifically around the theme of digital citizenship, and was condensed to six
MOOCs offer the opportunity to work with a wide spectrum of learners, and each metaliteracy
MOOC attracted its own unique learning community. Most participants in the cMOOC were academic
librarians interested in enhancing their knowledge of metaliteracy, smaller numbers of other
educators, and members of the general public. The participants in this first MOOC came primarily
from English-speaking countries, and totaled 554 enrollments. (Mackey, Forte, Allain, Jacobson &
Pitera, 2015, p. 34) We were eager to explore the potential interaction of intergenerational learners,
planning to combine a professional audience with traditional age undergraduates at The University
at Albany and adult learners from Empire State College.
The international reach of xMOOC platforms engendered a diverse learner demographic. The
first iteration of the Coursera MOOC included over 5,000 learners from 142 different countries. To
accommodate earning the Digital Citizen badge, registration for the Canvas MOOC was closed after
one week, limiting enrollment to approximately 300 learners. About half of the Canvas participants
self-identified as international learners, and ranged from high school students to adult learners and
Our journey from cMOOC to xMOOC paralleled the emergence of MOOCs into the learning
landscape. Yet as MOOCs became more automated and less learner-centered, we pushed against
these trends, and set out to create engaged, decentralized learning communities that aligned with
the tenants of metaliteracy.
Designing for Student-Centered Learning
The design of the metaliteracy MOOCs was influenced by the underlying connectivist assertion that
technology not only creates the circumstances under which connectedness flourishes, but also invites
learners to critically consider and engage their centrality in the perpetuation and creation of these
new learning spaces. Metaliteracy challenges learners to take ownership of their learning, which is
realized through a deeper understanding of how they learn and translate learning into action, and
self-reflection on their learning as a continuous process. These practices are particularly pertinent to
online environments in which learners are at once both consumers and producers of digital information
in open and collaborative spaces (Mackey & Jacobson, 2014). Thus, like connectivism, metaliteracy
promotes a decentralized learning environment in which learners have greater agency in their own
learning. As illustrated by Figure 1, and drawing comparisons to connectivism’s “personal learning
networks” (Dunaway, 2011, p.682), metaliteracy situates learners at the center of four interrelated
domains of learning as they take on myriad active roles in the processes of evaluating, producing
and sharing information (Mackey & Jacobson, 2014). In the sections that follow we describe how
we leveraged the distinct assets of each of the three MOOC platforms to support students in these
active learning roles as participants, contributors and teachers.
Learner as Participant
Downes (2011) described the first connectivist MOOCs as a “community of practitioners” who are
“introduced to ways of doing the sorts of things practitioners do, and through that practice, becomes
more similar in act, thought and values to members of that community” (para. 9). In the same vein,
our goal was for participants not only to learn metaliteracy, but to practice being self-directed and
self-reflective metaliterate learners. Rather than privileging the instructors as the sole authorities on
metaliteracy, we envisioned learners and instructors engaging together in collaborative
meaningmaking. This participatory environment necessitated a removal of instructors from the proverbial
lectern in order to provide learners with opportunities to actively engage, interpret and respond to the
content to make their own connections.
In the style of the original connectivist MOOCs, Metaliteracy MOOC disrupted the teacher-centered
learning environment by integrating various user-generated components. Content in the MOOC was
organized into topics, and each topic included an overview and key readings that served as a jumping
off point for deeper engagement. The course was focused less on the instructors’ definitions of
metaliteracy, and more on the interpretations of the participants. While there were required readings,
students were instructed to select additional resources in order to shape the learning that would be
most meaningful to them. Students were encouraged to keep personal blogs as a space to grapple
with the content and incorporate concepts into their own context of understanding. They were also
tasked with remixing, repurposing and making meaning of the metaliteracy concepts, and tracking
and sharing these interpretations through social media outlets. The gRSShopper programming
aggregated the contributions of course facilitators, guest speakers, and course participants within
daily newsletters, which provided a new springboard for continued conversations. Rather than simply
presenting information, the cMOOC sought to engage participants in critical conversations around
The cMOOC featured synchronous online webinars called “MOOC Talks,” so named to encompass
the non-division between teacher and learner, which encouraged active engagement with the course
content. The themed talks, which were also recorded for later viewing, captured conversations with
national and international scholars from various disciplines, and explored topics such as metacognition,
visual literacy, open learning, global perspectives related to literacy, media and news literacy,
digital storytelling, and technobiophilia (Thomas, 2013). Learners who attended the live webinar
or who submitted queries in advance could have their questions answered in “real time,” creating
opportunities for formative feedback and dialogue. Because metaliteracy was still a new concept at
the time, there was no pool of metaliteracy experts to call upon beyond the MOOC developers. Inviting
speakers from a variety of backgrounds, however, emphasized the range of theoretical perspectives
and real world situations in which metaliteracy is pertinent (Mackey et al., 2015, p. 34–40). In contrast
with the passive and stagnant nature of pre-recorded lecture videos, MOOC Talks offered students
opportunities for active engagement with guest speakers who represented a range of disciplines
and approaches to elements of metaliteracy or related literacies. Along with the user-generated
components of the course, the MOOC Talks modeled the decentralization of the “expert voice” within
a given discipline, and afforded learners a pathway to contribute to this emerging community.
In contrast to the inherently decentralized structure of the cMOOC, the Coursera platform was more
linear and lecture-oriented. We made the deliberate decision, however, that videos would not constitute
the main content of our first xMOOC, Metaliteracy: Empowering Yourself in a Connected World.
While Coursera’s navigation menu was organized by video lecture, we worked around this
videocentric platform by hard-coding a navigation panel and creating landing pages for each module. We
chose to avoid the “talking head” video that replicates lecture-based lesson delivery, and instead used
the videos as engaging entry points to the main course content, which mostly consisted of readings
that students were expected to critically engage with and respond to. The videos were intentionally
varied by style, content and length and included animations, interviews, short introductory lectures,
and pecha-kucha-style narrations accompanied by photo slideshows. We used various tools to
develop the videos as well, including Animoto, GoAnimate, and the production studio at Empire State
College. Compared to the passive experience of watching a video lecture, the brief introductory
videos prompted learners to engage in a variety of instructor-generated documents and open source
articles. The instructional design decision to vary the video style and format aligned with the fluid
nature of the course. Pre-recorded videos of professors sitting behind a desk leave no opportunity
for student contributions.
As in the cMOOC, the Coursera MOOC encouraged students to interrogate and reflect on the
course concepts for their assignments and in open discussion forums. While participation in the
forums was not required, this is where we saw the deepest engagement as students grappled with
the metaliteracy concepts. Students started their own threads, clarified each other’s questions,
and offered their own interpretations of the course content. As the course played out the Coursera
discussion forums took on a life of their own, and were a driving force in terms of direction, content,
and scope. In this sense, the course content had an opportunity to evolve as a diverse community
of students engaged with and reinterpreted the content according to their own diverse perspectives.
Using the Coursera MOOC as a model, the Canvas MOOC, Empowering Yourself as a Digital
Citizen, used videos as engaging introductions to the course content, which consisted of
instructorgenerated readings and open source articles and videos. Canvas promotes the “flexible pedagogy” of
its platform, and the simple modular format was essentially a blank slate that could be modified with
third-party applications according to the preferences of the instructors. To complement the gamified
style of this MOOC, we created all of the videos with GoAnimate, including animated skits with
characters voiced by many of the course instructors, and celebratory video clips that acknowledged
students’ completion of each module.
Modules in the Canvas MOOC consisted of weekly quests and challenges that culminated in
the Digital Citizen badge, which earners could choose to display on social networks and digital
portfolios. The digital badge served as an incentive for engaged participation in the MOOC, especially
since Canvas did not award its own certificates. In addition, tokens of achievement were awarded
for successful completion of a module, and served as visual milestones throughout the course.
The badges recognized students’ active participation in the course, and promoted their thoughtful
engagement with the course concepts, as opposed to their duplication of instructor definitions of
While we attempted to replicate Coursera’s discussion forums in the Canvas MOOC, we struggled
to create the same level of active engagement. Despite prompts and encouragement from the course
instructors, the students in the Canvas course mainly used the discussion forums as a place to
ask questions about assignments or course navigation, and were resistant to participate in deeper
dialogue. This tendency may have been related either to the smaller numbers of participants, or to
the types of participants, as many students described themselves as new to the MOOC environment.
Learner as Contributor
Metaliteracy fosters the learner’s role not only as a consumer, but also a creator of information,
recognizing that in networked learning environments the lines between consumer and creator are
often blurred. This goal aligns with Siemens’ (2012) promotion of the generative nature of knowledge,
asserting that “learners need to create and share stuff,” and not simply rely on information supplied
by instructors (section 2). MOOCs provide learners with opportunities to generate knowledge by
forming their own personal learning networks that integrate various nodes of learning into the context
of their own interpretations. Furthermore, they offer opportunities to “feed forward” by connecting
their individual “small worlds of knowledge” with a diverse peer network (Downes, 2011, section
4; Siemens, 2005). The learner-centered course design in each of the MOOCs facilitated each
participant’s role as contributor to a wider network of learners, as they engaged with the content
individually, in small groups, and with the wider course community. Additionally, as learners engaged
with open readings and media as part of their course assignments, the courses themselves were
also openly licensed, encouraging participants to share and repurpose the course content beyond
the MOOC itself.
The cMOOC employed the four types of activities established by the first connectivist MOOCs:
aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward (http://metaliteracy.cdlprojects.com/how.htm). Learners
were tasked with reading pertinent materials aggregated in the newsletter, working to understand the
connections, and repurposing and sharing their interpretations in their own blog posts and tweets. As
learners in the cMOOC generated course dialogue via blogs, social networking, and engagement in
the MOOC talks, they took on a leading role in the creation of course content. The RSS feed collected
this user-generated content and made it readily visible in order to “feed forward” in the practice of
collective knowledge cultivation. However, we found that most students who were participating in the
MOOC as a course requirement were focused less on meaningful engagement, and more on doing
the minimum amount required to pass the course. While prompts encouraged students to comment
on each other’s posts, few chose to do so. Thus, while the cMOOC supported learners as they
formed their own personal learning networks to make “connections between various perspectives,
opinions and concepts” (Dunaway p. 676), it was less successful in facilitating connections between
individual learning networks.
While the circuitous nature of the cMOOC better aligned with a decentralized learning environment,
we found that the embedded tools in the Coursera MOOC helped to facilitate the generative
roles that students hesitated to take on in the cMOOC. The assignments in the Coursera MOOC
consisted of reflective essays completed at the end of each module, and the content often mirrored
the processes being practiced in the course, such as remixing open content. Coursera’s integrated
assignment tool clearly guided students through the three steps of the peer-assessed assignments:
a written reflection, an optional self-assessment, and the assessment of two peers. We used the
peer assessment tool to replicate the networked processes of the cMOOC as students engaged
the content individually, in smaller peer groups, and with the wider course community. The tool was
designed in such a way that students were required to review the work of their peers in order to
receive a grade on their own work. The “feeding forward” phase was extended in the discussion
forums where students shared their experiences with the assignments and further engaged with
the metaliteracy concepts. Thus, the embedded constructs of the Coursera platform supported a
generative, networked learning process as students formed their own individual as well as collective
interpretations with their peers.
Assignments in the Canvas MOOC were largely focused on the responsible creation, sharing and
remixing of open content, and the culminating Digital Citizen badge validated these processes.
However, while the participatory features from the Coursera MOOC were replicated in the design
of the Canvas MOOC, they were not nearly as successful. This was primarily due to issues with
Canvas’s peer assessment functionality. While Coursera’s assignment tool walked students through
the peer assessment process, Canvas did not integrate the peer review step into the assignments;
therefore, while students could review each other’s work, the review step was not automatically
factored into the grade, requiring the instructors both to remind students to grade each other and
ultimately to assign the official grade. When students were late in grading their peers, it held the
ungraded students back from making progress in the course. Furthermore, if students chose not to
complete the review step at all their peers were left without an assignment grade and the system
was essentially broken. Consequently, and combined with their lack of engagement in the discussion
forums, students in the Canvas MOOC practiced remixing content in open learning spaces, but in the
MOOC itself they tended to remain siloed within their own learning networks.
Learner as Teacher
Metaliteracy envisions the full decentralization of learning as the exchange of learner and teacher
roles. Downes (2011), likewise, expanded on his idea of a community of participants, explaining
that “what a connectivist course becomes is a community of educators attempting to learn how it
is that they learn, with the objective of allowing them to be able to help other people learn. We are
all educators, or at least, learning to be educators, creating and promoting the (connective) practice
of education by actually practicing it” (para. 11). Metaliteracy asserts that learners have expertise
to share with others. By motivating learners to take on participatory, collaborative roles, we also
encouraged them to recognize, embrace, and hone their roles as teachers.
In the cMOOC, we invited learners into a space wherein their voices could frame the course. While
participants in the cMOOC readily assumed a participatory role in the generation of course content,
they were hesitant to take on a formal role in teaching their peers. The instructors found that the
information professionals participating in the cMOOC more robustly adopted the role of learner as
teacher than did the university students enrolled in the course. This was not surprising, given the
information literacy background the information professionals brought to the experience, and their
comfort operating in a milieu of what could be considered colleagues. The undergraduate learners,
however, lacked the confidence to participate independently, waiting for explicit permission or for
defined roles to be explained to them. Thus, even when we made sincere pedagogical attempts to
upend and challenge the traditional classroom the majority of learners remained predictably invested
in viewing teacher as authority.
Coursera’s peer review tool opened up new possibilities for learners to take on the teacher role as
they assigned grades and provided constructive feedback to their peers. The instructors developed
rubrics that carefully aligned with the metaliteracy objectives, which served both to ensure the validity
of the assessments and to facilitate the learner as teacher role. We found the comment section
in Coursera’s rubric builder to be especially useful in encouraging thoughtful feedback, requiring
students to explain their reasoning rather than absently assigning a grade.
While the peer assessment tool presented the most obvious application of teaching practices, the
learner-as-teacher role was most fully realized in the discussion forums. Students critically engaged
with the content and asked important questions that led to deeper understanding, effectively helping
each other learn. Many students shared relevant outside resources in the discussion forums to help
their peers understand difficult concepts. It is important to note that this activity occurred with very
little prompting by course instructors, suggesting that given the opportunity and the tools to do so,
students are very willing to help their peers in a collective learning space.
Learners learning from each other is a hallmark of metaliteracy learning goals and objectives.
However, scaling the peer assessment process within the MOOC environment brought layered
challenges, including the results of expanded learner empowerment. Instructors had less “control”
over the ways in which learning activities were assessed, and as such put into practice one of the
many tenets of metaliteracy which challenge the traditional, top-down distribution of power in the
classroom – virtual or otherwise.
Just as learners took on the role of teacher, the course instructors embraced the role of learner
by encouraging and responding to course feedback and allowing the course to evolve accordingly.
For instance, we modified the assignment rubric based on input from a student about the language
barrier of global participants.
The challenges with the peer assessment functionality in Canvas limited participants’ roles as
teachers. As in Coursera, rubrics that aligned with course objectives guided students in the reviewing
of their peers’ work. However, due to confusion about the peer assessment tool and the resulting
delayed feedback, conversations around assignments were stalled and did not have an opportunity
to organically evolve.
Learner Roles Across MOOCs
Overall, the cMOOC served as the foundational metaliteracy MOOC that allowed for the exploration
of connectivist features that are aligned effectively with the participatory and collaborative goals of
metaliteracy. The decentralized nature of the cMOOC better engendered the complex networks and
user-generated content explored in metaliteracy. While xMOOCs are more structured and familiar
to students accustomed to traditional learning management systems, cMOOCs challenge learners
to choose their own learning avenues and to connect with others in a decentralized environment
in which “teacher-student and the students-teachers reflect simultaneously on themselves and the
world” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 83). The cMOOC promoted participant interactivity, one of the central
tenets of metaliteracy, by integrating various social media tools, and providing each user with a voice
as content creators.
Coursera functioned as a well-oiled machine with embedded templates and thorough guidelines
that facilitated a smooth and efficient course development process, and a structured and familiar
environment for learners; this template could also feel constraining, however, when we tried to move
outside of Coursera’s prescriptive box. Coursera’s lecture-oriented platform relies on the traditional
“banking model” of education, which is in direct contrast to the fluid and participatory nature of the
cMOOC that encourages and invites content from users. While Coursera and Canvas both promoted
the production of high-quality video learning objects, these materials favor the instructor point of view
and do not systematically support the kind of learner-centered narratives we experienced through
the participant blog posts compiled and shared in the cMOOC. We succeeded in engaging learners
through the interactive discussions in Coursera, but had to work against the linear grain of the Coursera
platform to involve learners in the collaborative production and sharing of their own work in this space.
Canvas’s “blank slate” offered more flexibility and possibilities for designing the course around
the pedagogy. Canvas’s philosophy is to be a “sounding board” for instructors, providing room for
academic freedom and pedagogical creativity. Starting with a blank page, a simple web editing
interface, and third party applications as building blocks, it is up to the instructor to decide how to
build the course. Canvas offered a great deal of flexibility in course design, and the modular structure
enabled the integration of badging elements, which was not possible with Coursera’s fixed template.
However, the course tools meant to foster student engagement - particularly the peer assessment
functionality - were not as well polished in Canvas as those in the Coursera platform, which limited
students in realizing their roles as contributors and teachers.
Each of the MOOCs offered varied opportunities for communication and deep learning in a
global context. In the cMOOC learners had the chance to engage with guest speakers from diverse
disciplines, perspectives, and geographic locations. Both xMOOCs attracted a diversity of learners
from a range of backgrounds and locations around the world, offering unique opportunities for global
communication. The strong international presence in the Coursera MOOC generated especially
engaging conversations around course content and pedagogy. In addition, language differences
led to enlightening discussions highlighting the challenges of non-native English speakers, and
several international learners remarked that the course gave them an opportunity to practice their
English language skills. These experiences reinforced the learner’s role as contributor and teacher,
encouraging development of the critical consciousness (Freire, 1970/2000) that results from deep
reflection and engagement with the world.
Empowered Learning and Self-Regulation
All three metaliteracy MOOCs invited learners to take on more active learning roles as participants,
contributors and teachers. However, as highlighted in the literature, students require support in order
to be successful in these roles.
The connectivist MOOC enabled a situation in which learners interacted with information presented
in disorderly ways, as evidenced by the disparate social media platforms or the selection of optional,
rather than required, readings. This format reflected the circuitous nature of online search navigation
and participatory social media environments, yet proved too unstructured for some. While a course
that allows students to decide what they would read, what content or social media connections they
would engage with, and whether they would watch the weekly MOOC Talks might work for advanced
students, we found this approach challenging for learners new to blended or online study. They were
not used to the extraordinary amount of self-direction allowed, indeed demanded, by the course
(Mackey et al., 2015, p. 37).
Metaliteracy seeks to address the broader issue of learners overwhelmed by complex online
information. Thus, its strategies promote intricate—and therefore supportive and collegial—
connectivist interactions. Ironically, while the cMOOC sought to provide the opportunity for learners
to both understand metaliteracy and become more practiced and proficient in its tenets, many of the
participants would have benefitted from a more structured metaliteracy learning environment before
they delved into what they saw as the anarchy of a cMOOC.
To help acclimate students to the decentralized MOOC environments, we provided navigational
constructs that supported self-directed learning practices. The learning contract in the cMOOC, for
example, was developed to provide support and guidance for students who were enrolled in the
accompanying credit courses. The contract fulfilled some of the elements of a course syllabus, and
included methods and criteria for evaluation, a plan for formative assessment, and assignment and
scheduling details. Likewise, in the Coursera MOOC we worked against the lecture-oriented platform
Some participants provided optional comments in the open section at the end of the surveys, 18 in
the initial application and 14 in the final one. Salient themes were identified. At the beginning of the
MOOC, students focused on difficulties faced, for example:
• I don’t trust my skills to use some study strategies. [P2]
• Whenever I deal with a topic, I need to read it -more or less- two times to understand it. [P27]
Respondents also described the strategies they used to address their challenges:
• Mental maps help me study. [P30]
• Sometimes I listen to classical music, as it helps me concentrate… [P9]
At the end of the MOOC, 12 out of the 14 comments focused on learning, either in general:
• This course was very useful for me; I learned a lot. [P1]
• I think my existing skills have been perfected. [P6]
• Thanks to this course I have improved in several aspects, such as organising my time and
using an adequate space for academic activities. I am also now able to use effective notes to
understand texts more efficiently. Many questions I had on how to use citations and references
were answered in this course…. [P18]
• I have learned about the search engine Google Scholar. [P32]
A change in the narratives is clear: The focus shifted from challenges to learning and acquired skills,
suggesting participants’ awareness of their own improvement. As self-efficacy is a strong predictor
of academic performance, its increase will likely translate into better academic results
Bartimote-Aufflick et al., 2015; Komarraju & Nadler, 2013; Putwain et al., 2013; Wäschle et al., 2014)
which could in turn enhance retention and progression.
Well-designed and facilitated MOOCs on study skills could represent an interesting opportunity
in challenging educational contexts, such as Mexico, as they can offer not only delivery at scale
but also a way to tackle common causes of attrition in universities (eg, Torres Balcazar et al.,
2011) and promote student retention
(Davenport & Lane, 2006; Street, 2010)
. Additionally, they
address recommendations for the incorporation of technology in education (ANUIES, 2000;
México Digital, 2015). They can be used on their own, embedded within a different programme
of study or as part of a blended learning strategy
(Bruff et al., 2013)
, offering a broad range of
support possibilities for academic institutions. As was the case in this study, MOOCs can benefit
different audiences, such as undergraduate students and full-time employees
Padilla Rodriguez et al., 2017)
Interventions to foster self-efficacy constitute an area of interest for higher education institutions.
This paper adds to the literature by focusing on how students’ beliefs about their capabilities to
produce expected outcomes can increase through a massive open online course on study skills.
We highlight the potential of MOOCs as a means of increasing self-efficacy at scale, both in terms
of general self-efficacy and in relation to specific study skills. For learners, MOOCs can represent a
low-cost, low-risk, formative opportunity to widen their knowledge and improve their confidence in
their own abilities. MOOCs are a means through which colleges and universities can reach a global
audience with a potentially high value learning opportunity.
The strong link between academic achievement and self-efficacy suggests that MOOCs, such
as the one we report on in this article, can be a valuable resource to address attrition, enhance
retention and improve students’ study skills. The associated benefits of well-designed MOOCs that
foster self-efficacy are yet to be thoroughly assessed. Future research should focus on the impact of
increased self-efficacy on different target audiences operating in different contexts. While the Study
Skills MOOC was created originally with a traditional student population in mind, non-traditional
learners, such as full-time employees and retired individuals, also joined. What are the benefits for
the different audiences? In addition, we encourage other researchers to explore different ways in
which the Study Skills MOOC or parts of it can be incorporated into the higher education curriculum.
This work was supported by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) in Mexico.
Revista Iberoamericana sobre Calidad, Eficacia y Cambio en Educación, 12(1), 25–34. Retrieved
Gargallo, B., Campos, C., & Almerich, G. (2016). Learning to learn at university. The effects of an
instrumental subject on learning strategies and academic achievement. Culture and Education,
28(4), 1–19. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/11356405.2016.1230293
Hodges, C. (2016). The Development of Learner Self-Efficacy in MOOCs. In Proceedings of Global
Learn 2016 (pp. 517–522). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
Hood N., Littlejohn A. & Milligan C. (2015). Context Counts: how learners’ contexts influence learning
in a MOOC. Computers & Education, 91, 83–91. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2015.10.019
Jordan, K. (2015). MOOC Completion Rate: The Data. Retrieved from http://www.katyjordan.com/
Komarraju, M. & Nadler, D. (2013). Self-efficacy and academic achievement: Why do implicit beliefs,
goals, and effort regulation matter? Learning and Individual Differences, 25, 67–72. http://dx.doi.
McGee, P. & Reis, A. (2012). Blended course design: A synthesis of best practices. Journal of
Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(4), 7–22. Retrieved from
México Digital (2015, October 17). Cursos gratuitos en línea en la plataforma MéxicoX [blog post].
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2010). How many students drop
out of tertiary education? Highlights from Education at a Glance 2010. OECD Publishing. http://
Padilla, J., Acosta, B., Gómez, J., Guevara, M., & González, A. (2006). Propiedades psicométricas
de la versión española de la escala de autoeficacia general aplicada en México y España
[Psychometric properties of the Spanish version of the general self-efficacy scale applied in Mexico
and Spain]. Revista Mexicana de Psicología, 23(2), 245–252.
Padilla Rodriguez, B. C., Estrada Rocha, F. J., & Rodriguez Nieto, M. C. (2017). Razones para
estudiar un curso en línea masivo y abierto (MOOC) de habilidades de estudio [Reasons to study
a massive open online course (MOOC) of study skills]. In C. Delgado Kloos, C. Alario-Hoyos &
R. Hernández Rizzardini (eds.). Actas de la Jornada de MOOCs en español en EMOOCs 2017
(EMOOCs-ES) (pp. 54–61).
Putwain, D., Sander, P., & Larkin, D. (2013). Academic self-efficacy in study-related skills and
behaviours: Relations with learning-related emotions and academic success. British Journal of
Educational Psychology, 83(4), 633–650. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8279.2012.02084.x
Salmon, G. (2002). E-tivities: the key to active online learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing Inc.
Sharples, M., Adams, A., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., &
Whitelock, D. (2014). Innovating Pedagogy 2014: Open University Innovation Report 3. Milton Keynes:
The Open University.
Shier, R. (2004). Statistics: 2.2 The Wilcoxon signed rank sum test. Mathematics Learning Support
Centre. Retrieved from http://www.statstutor.ac.uk/resources/uploaded/wilcoxonsignedranktest.
Stewart, B. (2013). Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation? MERLOT Journal
of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2). Retrieved from
Street, H. (2010). Factors Influencing a Learner’s Decision to Drop-Out or Persist in Higher
Education Distance Learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 13(4). Retrieved
Torres Balcázar, E., Osuna Lever, C., & Sida Vargas, P. C. (2011). Reprobación en las carreras del
área de Ciencias de la Salud de la Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, México [Failing in
degrees of the field of health sciences of the Autonomous University of Baja California, Mexico].
Educación y Humanismo, 13(21), 34–50.
Verzat, C., Jore, M., Toutain, O., & Silberzahn, P. (2015). What do participants learn in a MOOC on
effectuation? Impact study on self-efficacy and self-directed learning in entrepreneurial education
(summary). Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research, 35(5). Retrieved from
Wang, Y. & Baker, R. (2015). Content or platform: Why do students complete MOOCs? MERLOT
Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 11(1), 17–30. Retrieved from
Wäschle, K., Allgaier, A., Lachner, A., Fink, S., & Nückles, M. (2014). Procrastination and
self-efficacy: Tracing vicious and virtuous circles in self-regulated learning. Learning and Instruction, 29,
Wernersbach, B., Crowley, S., Bates, S., & Rosenthal, C. (2014). Study Skills Course Impact on
Academic Self-Efficacy. Developmental Education, 37(3), 14–33. Retrieved from http://files.eric.
Youell, A. (2011). What is a course or programme or route or pathway or learning Opportunity…?
London, UK: JISC, Higher Education Statistics Agency.
Papers are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Open Praxis, vol. 9 issue 3, July–September 2017, pp. 345–357 (ISSN 2304-070X)
Open Access Research Via Collaborative Educational
Blogging: A Case Study from Library & Information Science
Kristen Radsliff Rebmann
San Jose State University, School of Information (USA)
Camden Bernard Clark
University of Idaho (USA)
This article charts the development of activities for online graduate students in library and information science.
Project goals include helping students develop competencies in understanding open access publishing,
synthesizing research in the field, and engaging in scholarly communication via collaborative educational
blogging. Using a design experiment approach as a research strategy, focus is placed on the design of the
collaborative blogging activity, open access research as a knowledge domain, and analyses of four iterations of
the project. Findings from this iterative learning design suggest several benefits of implementing collaborative
educational blogging activities in distance contexts.
Keywords: blogging; distance learning; higher education; open access; social media
Graduate education in library and information science (LIS) has enjoyed early adoption of new
information and communication technologies (ICTs) as a means and context for helping graduate
students develop new competencies in the areas of scholarly communication, career development,
and intellectual exchange. New ICTs are also, to a great extent, the objects of learning in and of
themselves. With this in mind, graduate education in LIS works on many levels and students are
called to learn about tools and technologies of information across many contexts, dimensions of use,
This article charts the development of online activities for students to help them develop
competencies in the areas of understanding open access research and scholarly communication
via collaborative educational blogging. Although the curricular content area described originates in
library and information science, the online activities reported on here are relevant to a wide variety of
instructors –particularly those working with graduate students at a distance. As an article describing
innovative practice in distance and e-learning, the concrete experiences described here address
several challenges in online, higher education classrooms including the design of activities that:
1) Support peer to peer interaction and combat student isolation.
2) Create opportunities for distance students to develop competencies via active learning in the
areas of open access publishing and scholarly exchange via blogging.
3) Enable lifelong learning beyond programs of study.
4) Connect course learning outcomes to program level learning outcomes and culminating
Open Access Research as Curricular Content Area in Library & Information Science
Open access research is defined as research and publication that is freely available and in the public
sphere. There are two main models for Open Access (OA) publishing. One model exists within the
for-profit publishing world whereby publishers make articles open access when authors pay them to
do so or allow for author self-archiving of their articles in some manner. This way of organizing open
access research is referred to as green OA. In this situation, the journals in which the open-access
articles appear are essentially licensed material but someone has paid to make the article freely
available. In contrast, there exist gold OA journals where all of the articles are freely available and no
one is remunerated for publishing the articles.
The open-access movement poses challenges as well as opportunities for new library and
information science professionals. For example, students that have an understanding of the
openaccess industry can more effectively navigate research practices with their future patrons and users
in public, academic, and special libraries in addition to any other diverse information context they
may find themselves working in. When information professionals know how to connect learners with
research in the public domain, they are able to challenge structures that disadvantage users without
access to traditionally licensed sources of reliable information.
It’s also been noted in several studies that articles published in Open Access journals are more
heavily cited than those published by more traditional routes (Atchison & Bull, 2015; Hajjem, Harnad &
Gingras, 2006; Harnad & Brody, 2004; Kurtz et al., 2005). Students can support their future programs
of research by reading audiences widely and globally by strategic use of open access publishing
practices. With this in mind, one goal of the learning design described here was to highlight gold OA
via blogging to perpetuate not-for-profit publishing, promote its proliferation, and increase its rigor by
making venues more visible and accessible to peer reviewers and scholars alike.
How are blogs used in library & information science?
Sarathi Mandal (2011) defines the word blog as “an online diary where one can post information
(not only text but also audio, photographs, and videos) on a regular basis”. Sarathi Mandal outlines
five different types of blogs including media blogs, device blogs, subject blogs, legal status blogs,
and searching blogs. Katie Greenland (2013) published a significant literature review of blogging
practices in the field of library and information science. She answers questions about the challenges
librarian bloggers face as part of their writing activities. Her findings suggest that librarian bloggers
experience issues with anonymity privacy ethics identity and presentation of self and the blurring
of personal, public, private, and professional lives. Wilson and Yowell (2008) describe the use of
blogging as a means of communicating disaster planning information for a Health Sciences Library.
They see the Strength of blogs and the blog and format as a means of controlling the information
flow related to disaster planning in their community. They argue that the strength of the blogging
technology include a means of including text, links, searchability, and the ability to infuse post with
images or photography.
Coulter and Draper (2006) explore the use of blogs as a means of communicating with graduate
students in ways beyond formalized information literacy (IL) instruction. The authors include a
literature review charting the use of blogs in education as well as in libraries serving other purposes.
The research methodology included the creation of blogs tied to graduate information literacy
courses, arguing in 2006 that blogs would become part of the future in library and information
science. In the ten years since the Coulter and Draper article, blogging in about libraries and by
information professionals remains a highly relevant practice. For this reason alone, it behooves
library and information science educators to train new librarians to communicate via new information
and communication technologies and social media.
“...we believe that, with increased marketing and collaboration with teaching faculty (translating
into increased motivational power), librarians can emulate their teaching colleagues’ success with
educational blogs” (Coulter & Draper, 2006, p. 110)
What is educational blogging?
Blogs have been used across many educational contexts in several different ways with myriad goals.
For example, Zinger and Sinclair (2013) identify several benefits of blogging in college-level courses
including cross-curricular engagement, tools for publishing, writing practice, professional networking,
collaborative activity, and promotive of student engagement and communication (p. 350). Crane
(2007) describes how web 2.0 technologies are used in the classroom. She focuses on blogging in
the subject area of language arts and outlines the main components of blogs as a writing genre for
students. Importantly, Crane outlines several rationales for the use of blogs in the classroom which
can be extended to higher education contexts in addition to the K-12 environment she describes. For
example, she mentions the creation of community, peer interaction, contexts for peer and instructor
feedback, support for more reserved students, encouragement for reading practices in general,
and a generalized support for research activity that might extend beyond educational assignments.
This article conveniently provides tips and suggestions for getting started on blogging projects for
Cobus (2009) explores issues of informal medical information communicated via blogs in a
graduate course in public health. The researchers introduced a blogging assignment into a graduate
course in which students were asked to search for medical information, reflect on it, and comment
on blog postings offered by peers. By structuring the assignment in this way, students learned to filter
and find credible sources of information and learned to evaluate informal as well as formal medical
information. Importantly the blog assignment met goals related to helping students learn about social
media as well as new information and communication technologies but combined this with curricular
goals in the domain of the course.
“To create successful 2.0, assignments, the technology should be an enabler rather than the
dominator” (Cobus, 2009, p. 29).
Another study (Bishop et al., 2014) implemented a blogging activity for graduate students and
evaluated the students’ reactions to the blogging activity. These authors felt that the blogging added
competencies beyond traditional graduate education with the acknowledgement that not all students
will pursue careers in academic research. The authors also surveyed students to see the percent that
were interested in pursuing their own individually-authored blogs (around 50% were interested in this).
Recognition of the importance of competencies relating to networking and writing for dissemination
and their relationship to goals for formal publication (via academic journals) were a strong part of the
motivation to introduce a blogging activity.
Other work (Alqudsi-Ghabra & Al-Bahrani, 2012) compares activities that involve voluntary vs
involuntary blogging on the part of library and information science graduate students studying in
Kuwait. The authors refer to the involuntary blogs as course centered and the voluntary blogs as
student-centered. The authors findings extend previous work by concluding that (among many
dimensions of learning) the blogging activities contributed to critical thinking, provided opportunities
for networking, allowed students to engage in public affairs, and supported students in developing
competencies in new information and communication technologies.
Working in the field of library and information science education, Stephens (2016) created a
blogging community for graduate students working in an online environment. This study is highly
relevant in terms of gaining student perspectives on participation in an online blogging community
and what this means for their programs of study. Via this survey study, Stephens’ findings suggest
that “students have positive perceptions of the effectiveness and usefulness of student blogging
communities” (p. 306).
Collaborative educational blogging
While individually-authored blogs have been investigated for their ability to facilitate collaboration among
online groups (Stephens & Roberts, 2017), collaborative blogging activities are less studied. Along
slightly different lines to previous work charting educational blogging, Xie, Ke and Sharma’s (2010)
research studied peer interaction during team blogging activities. These authors found that collaborative
educational blogging brings new dimensions to learning by facilitating reflective and higher order
thinking (p. 461). They report in an earlier article that peer blogs and related comments provide “diverse
perspectives and information so that they could gain a holistic indent view of the content” (p. 461).
Researchers found that the questioning blog postings (as opposed to “monologuing” posts) resulted in
conversations that achieved greater cognitive depth and breadth. These findings suggest that the aspect
of questioning discourse seems important to team blogging designed to support learning in particular.
More recently, Kuo, Belland and Kuo (2017) designed a collaborative blogging activity for
nontraditional, African American students enrolled in two instructional design courses. This survey study
quantitatively studies relationships between blogging self-efficacy, sense of community, perceived
collaborative learning, and perceived learning. Kuo et al. (2017) note the “the importance of
collaborative learning and sense of community on perceived learning in blog-enhanced settings”
(p. 47). Their findings also confirm the preference for community-based, collaborative learning on
the part of African American, non-traditional students. Along these lines, they argue that blogging
activities are particularly well-suited to providing the organizing structures for community learning
with some suggestions for activity design.
The collaborative educational blogging project described here follows earlier efforts described above
by asking questions about the feasibility of implementing team blogging and the sustainability of
collaborative blogs. Questions about how collaborative blogging can meet diverse pedagogical and
curricular goals also inspired this design. Another motivating factor for creating team-based learning
activities was to minimize the creation and abandonment of student blogs. “Zombie blogs,” created
by students not interested in engaging in blog-authoring long-term, are one example of the lack of
utility associated with personal blogs that enjoy activity for short periods of time. Along similar lines,
there is a lack of professional usefulness associated with blog management systems where students
do in fact author blogs but the availability (of blogs) beyond course assignments is either less visible,
not easily shared publicly, or restricted altogether.
With these challenges in mind, we pose two core research questions. The first is as follows:
Is it feasible to create a sustainable blog for LIS graduate students where student work can remain
accessible over long periods of time?
In addition to issues of sustainability and responsiveness to transience of student participation in
blogging, our goals included exposing LIS graduate students to a particular knowledge domain:
open access journals, articles, and the processes of searching the open access literature. With this
in mind, we sought to explore:
Can a collaborative team-authored blog meet curricular goals for LIS education? If so, what tools,
structures, and organization of activity might we implement?
A design experiment approach
Considering the recent strengthening of the open access publishing model and growth of educational
blogging, we wanted to see if these content and practice areas could be combined in an online
instructional approach. To achieve this, we adopted a research strategy informed by Ann Brown’s
design experiment approach. Initially introduced by Ann Brown (1992), design experiments involve
the development, implementation, and evaluation of instructional activities while contextualizing
interventions within localized sets of practices and contingencies. Work by The Design-based
Research Collective (2003) and Dede, Nelson, Ketelhut, Clarke and Bowman (2004) has further
articulated design-based research as those methods that attempt to “gain insight into how, when,
and why innovations work in practice” (Dede et al., 2004, p. 159). Wang and Hannafin (2005) further
define several characteristics of design-based research:
1) Often conducted within a single setting over a long time.
2) Iterative cycles of design, enactment, analysis, and redesign.
3) Contextually dependent interventions.
4) Document and connect outcomes with development process and the authentic setting.
5) Collaboration between practitioners and researchers.
6) Lead to the development of knowledge that can be used in practice and can inform
practitioners and other designers (2005, p. 7).
Like Brown and other design-based researchers, the project attempts to understand an innovation
(a LIS team blogging activity), and consider whether it supports learning in a distributed academic
community. As an experiment in learning design, it is hoped that participation in collaborative
blogs will foster new forms of (ongoing) interaction between faculty, students, new professionals,
and community members at large. The iterative process of intervention-driven change inherent
to the design experiment model has the potential to contribute to theory about learning and
practical considerations about developing similar writing collaborations and engagement with
By taking a design experiment approach, the blogging project allowed for consideration of the
process of infusing blogging practices into existing distance learning classrooms. Bound up in
these efforts was the goal of creating sustainable contexts supportive of engagement with the
scholarly literature and professional development for LIS graduate students. Lunsford and Bruce
(2001) identify six attributes they suggest are characteristic of collective, virtual workspaces
designed to support collaborative learning. They include shared inquiry (a common set of
problems or issues), intentionality (a shared consciousness of the blog as a shared project),
active participation and contribution, access to shared resources (open access research),
technologies, and boundary crossings (moments where gaps in geography, time, institutions,
and disciplines may be bridged) (Lunsford & Bruce, 2001, p. 295). Along these lines, the design
of a LIS collaborative blog was structured to include similar attributes to those described by
Lunsford and Bruce.
The project involved extending blogging assignments to graduate students in six (distance) library
and information science courses delivered in Canvas online course management software. Blogging
activities involved students enrolled in four sections of a course related to designing services for
diverse populations (course A) and two sections of a course in learning design to support various
forms of literacy (course B). The first iteration involved both courses in fall 2015 and the second
iteration involved those same courses in the spring 2016 semester. The third and fourth iterations
involved one section of course A in fall 2016 and one section of course B in fall 2017. Students were
distance graduate students in library and information science using a common course management
system (Canvas) to access learning activities. Each course enrolled between 15 and 57 students.
Students worked in teams of anywhere from 3 to 5 students.
Much of the blogging and education literature describes project designs that encourage students
to develop individually-authored blogs. Particularly in library & information science education,
the emphasis has been (traditionally) on the competencies associated with the development and
maintenance of the blog as a technology in and of itself with less emphasis on the content and
sustainability of the blog over time. We felt there is a drawback to single-authored blogs for students
in that they may have no desire to continue to blog over time and their blog may lose its relevance
as a living object to demonstrate professional competency in both content and technology. Another
drawback of individual blogging is the lack of social and cognitive interaction between students as
they engage with the scholarly literature.
The blogging activities served several purposes as part of the overall learning design. For example,
one goal was to support student competencies in engaging with new information and communication
technologies such as social media. Another goal was for students to engage with the literature
associated with the content domain of the course. Bound up in goals for professionalization was the
idea that students should learn how to write in scholarly ways across many contexts, the blogosphere
representing only one. Collaborative and group activity was also an important part of this design to
improve student perceptions of social/cognitive presence, team building, and professional networking.
Related to the idea of familiarizing students with the academic literature was the hope of exposing
students to open access research.
We registered a URL and hosted a WordPress installation for the domain http://www.
openaccessreader.com (see figure 1).
Several plugins were used to provide blogging-specific functionality for the website including linking
of form-based posting, searching, tagging, and postings to social media sites such as Facebook and
LinkedIn. We implemented a modified version of the “User Submitted Posts” plugin distributed on the
WordPress website. This plugin generates a form hosted on the WordPress installation that allows
users to submit posts for approval by an administrator.
Our modifications primed the plugin for students and researchers to submit an article retrieved from
several course content-related open access journals to promote discussion. First, the submitters
entered their names, provided the title of the article and linked to where the article is hosted. Additionally,
submitters were encouraged to “tag” their submissions to allow other users of the website to find other
similar articles and give browsers an impression of the discussion and content of the article. Relevant
tags were journal names and subject designations. When a submission was received, it was reviewed
by the faculty (administrator). If approved, the submission was published to the website. Two social
media plugins were implemented to encourage users to spread and share their discussion. One
allows users of the website to share submissions on LinkedIn; the other to share on Facebook.
Four iterations of a blogging course assignment
The project involved extending blogging assignments to graduate students in six (distance) library
and information science courses (see figure 2). Blogging activities involved students enrolled in (four
sections) of a course related to designing library services for diverse populations and another course
in learning design to support various forms of literacy (two sections). Student groups of between
3 and 5 members were asked to collaboratively author one blog posting about an article relating to
our course content. Only articles retrieved from a (gold) open access journal were appropriate for
the assignment. In the first iteration of the assignment, students were sent appropriate open access
articles for analysis and posting. In the second (and subsequent) iterations, student groups searched
for and selected their own articles. Students in the second iteration (and beyond) were reminded to
select only topical articles that are open access (freely available to anyone) and to search the blog
to make sure their article had NOT been blogged about prior. Article choices were then sent to the
professor for approval.
Each group contributed a collaboratively-authored 750-1000 word (approximate) response to the
article chosen. Quite a bit of structure was provided to students in terms of possible topics and
content to include in their postings. Suggested content included a request that postings contain some
combination of the following:
1) Article synopsis and core research question(s).
2) Methods used to answer the research question.
3) Findings and conclusions.
4) Unanswered questions you have and what future research might address.
5) A thoughtful attempt to answer your own questions.
Student groups were also tasked with responding to a peer group’s posting by either extending their
thoughts in a new direction or attempting to answer a question posed in the original post. These
responses were in the range of 3 sentences in length. Groups were asked to skim the other group’s
article prior to commenting. Finally, students were provided with a link related to the assessment of
student blog postings published in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Sample, 2010).
Findings and Analysis
The project as design experiment sought to create a learning context that works on multiple levels,
responds iteratively to the community of learners, and sustains its relevance in multiple dimensions
A sustainable, collaborative, student-authored blog
Although blogging activities have become very popular in educational contexts, the time scale for
engagement is usually limited to the semester over which the class plays out. In many courses,
the blog is explored as a tool for dissemination of ideas but efforts are short-lived. Even though
there is acknowledgment that blogging can assist students professionally, little effort is made to
support student activity over the long term. Particularly in library & information science education,
the emphasis has been (traditionally) on the competencies associated with the development and
maintenance of the blog as a technology in and of itself with less emphasis on the content and
sustainability of the blog over time.
With this in mind, we tried to build-in or anticipate that the blog postings would exist beyond the
timeline of the course. Therefore we built a blog where students played the role of contributor rather
than sole author. We hoped students would insert blog URLs into their personal e-portfolios to
demonstrate competencies associated with new information and communication technologies as
well as their mastery of curricular content and understanding of open-access, scholarly literature.
Blog-based writing was selected as a means of supporting their ability to engage in new forms of
External challenges to the sustainability for a blog such as this lie in the necessity of maintaining
domain licensing and subscriptions to content management software (in this case WordPress). Spam
comments became a problem during the second and subsequent iterations. A captcha utility will be
implemented in iteration five to prevent spam comments that must be waded through continually.
For this study, these structures were implemented and maintained over four semesters and the plan
is to continue maintaining them in the future. Since there is no expectation that students or their
groups ever contribute to the blog in the future, there is less reliance on past writers to return to the
site. Future courses incorporating collaborative blogging activities guarantee a continual source of
content and, thus, the sustainability of the site. With commitment on the part of the faculty member,
the blog and its content can exist in perpetuity.
Over the course of the study, there was some evidence of students pointing back to their
contributions in e-portfolios (see figure 3) and via social media pingbacks.
After the second iteration, we began highlighting student blog postings via LinkedIn (see figure 4).
There was positive reception from LinkedIn connections to the student contributions.
It is our plan to communicate with students and encourage them to update us on their future
uses of their contributions. In support of this goal, we plan to model resource sharing and career
management via social media (more strategically) in future courses.
Meeting curricular goals for online LIS education
Our study demonstrated that collaborative blogging activities can be easily sustained once structures
and activity designs stabilize. What about the blog’s relationship to curricular goals? As mentioned
before, much of the prior educational blogging literature describes project designs that encourage
students to develop individually-authored blogs. We felt there is a drawback to single-authored blogs
for students in that they may have no desire to continue to blog over time. Blogs may lose their
relevance as living objects demonstrating students’ professional competencies in both content and
technology if activity ceases on the blog.
With these challenges in mind, we placed students in the role of contributors to an ongoing scholarly
blog designed to highlight open access research in the field of library and information science. The
blog operates as a collaborative activity on two levels. First, the blog represents a
collaborativelyauthored artifact drawing readers’ attention to emerging, easily accessible research in the field of
library and information science. Second, the blogging course assignments were written to prompt
students to search for, analyze, and write about open access research in their field of study as a
collaborative task. Student groups analyzed their own articles and posted group-authored reviews of
their articles. As one student describes:
“As part of a group assignment, we review an article based on the themes of the class. Retrieved
from an open access database, our group came across an interesting article on diversity of staff in
a library” (Student reflection, 12/16/2017).
Groups then (also collaboratively) commented on the posts of peer groups. In one example, a group
comments on how a review post spurred discussion of equality in library services:
“Your conclusions started a dialogue in our group about the difference between an equal services
framework, in which everyone should be treated equally regardless of difference, and equitable
services framework, which tries to account for systematic disadvantages and seeks to uplift
marginalized populations” (Collaboratively-authored response, 05/06/2017).
Another comment drew attention to the way blogs can support “issue-raising” among new members
of the field:
“This is a perspective that our group has not read about or thought much about. But we all came to
the general consensus that LIS research often does involve the use of surveys, to the point where
it becoming less and less creative in a world that seems to be becoming more creative in approach.
It was certainly refreshing to read your group’s article on this topic, as it is a very prevalent issue
in the field, and in many other fields as well. We feel that there needs to be a change in the most
influential researchers within different areas of LIS, and others will follow suit”
(Collaborativelyauthored response, 12/01/2016).
In the comment above, students explored two topics of contestation in the field. These activities are
essential for new professionals as they establish themselves as practitioners as well as scholars.
Along these lines, we were able to create an active learning event where students collaboratively
worked on a curriculum-intensive task. The task exposed new information professionals to open
access research in library & information science and created a context where students practiced
identifying and searching for open access journals and articles related to course topics. Students
wrote about the scholarly literature in a blog posting format, a highly relevant form of scholarly
communication in their field. The course work products had ongoing relevance for inclusion in student
e-portfolios or work collections.
Findings from this iterative learning design suggest several benefits of implementing collaborative
educational blogging activities in distance context. First, students had the ability to build relationships
by working together on searching the open access (OA) literature of the field and synthesizing it in
a review format. The design also challenged students to engage in professionally-relevant practices
of scholarly communication (blogging). As mentioned previously, students not only discussed their
own work but collaboratively authored responses to other groups. Evidence of students using the
blog postings as contributions to their e-portfolios (our online program’s culminating experience)
demonstrated the relevance of the activity to their program of study and career preparation. The
focus on open access research in the field is supportive of lifelong learning in that the ability to search
and synthesize the OA literature is something students can take with them. These competencies will
serve them regardless of whether they work in an organization that budgets for traditionally licensed
materials or pursue a career where funding for traditional journal and database subscriptions is not
available. Despite the benefits made visible by the project, the authors recognize that more work
needs to be done to explore student perceptions of the activities. We can imagine that qualitative
data collection of these perspectives would expand the project in fruitful directions. Finally, and not yet
explored adequately, is the place the blog occupies in the professional community and what can be
done to raise awareness of its existence and utility. Zinger and Sinclair (2013) observed that student
blogs have the potential to support networking between students and professionals internationally.
“Our health blog started out small with only the college community responding to our students but
then we opened up the blog and our students were communicating with people from all over the
world” (Zinger & Sinclair, 2013, p. 350).
With this goal in mind, we hope to do more to develop this site as a professional resource for
communication among students and researchers actively publishing in open access journals.
Wang, F., & Hannafin, M. J. (2005). Design-based research and technology-enhanced learning
environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 5–23.
Wilson, D. T., & Yowell, S. S. (2008). Resourceful blogging: Using a blog for information sharing.
Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 27(2), 211–220.
Xie, Y., Ke, F., & Sharma, P. (2010). The effects of peer-interaction styles in team blogs on students’
cognitive thinking and blog participation. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 42(4),
Zinger, L. & Sinclair, A. (2013). Using blogs to enhance student engagement and learning in the
health sciences. Contemporary Issues in Education Research (Online), 6(3), 349.
Open Praxis, vol. 9 issue 3, July–September 2017, pp. 359–360 (ISSN 2304-070X)
Book review of Revolution in Higher Education
DeMillo, R. A. (2015). Revolution in Higher Education: How a small band of innovators will make
college accessible and affordable. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 360 pages. ISBN: 9780262533614.
Reviewed by: Jennifer A. Kepka
Doctoral student, Boise State University (USA)
The growth of online teaching and learning has stimulated
debate about the role of higher education for years. In
Revolution in Higher Education: How a small band of
innovators will make college accessible and affordable
(2015), DeMillo critiques faculty practice and governance
in the modern American collegiate institution. Ultimately,
DeMillo is interested in whether higher education institutions
can still maintain their social contract with constituents – and
whether they can even identify who those constituents may
be. He predicts that making college education accessible to
many will require bypassing the current structure of higher
education institutions themselves, as some have already
started to do.
Structure and content
DeMillo is the director of the Center for 21st Century
Universities at Georgia Tech. As such, he is not an
uninterested party, and the book is an extended argument
in favor of the innovators he has studied and among whose number he counts himself. Beginning
with the “Magic Year” of 2012 (p. 11), DeMillo introduces his selected “band” of innovators as they
begin disrupting the traditional model of classroom instruction. Herein he interviews and follows
Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng as Coursera incubates; breakfasts with Sebastian Thrun as Udacity is
launching; trades notes and phone calls with Arizona State University president Michael Crow as he
expands his university’s mission online; strolls the empty lofts of Ben Nelson’s soon-to-open Minerva
Project; and recounts the online birth and expansion of the MIT Open Courseware Project under
Anant Agarwal. In 2012 and 2013, these projects were launching into public attention and at various
levels of practical engagement, and all had common interest in the Massively Open Online Course.
Setting up the stories with ample suspense, DeMillo moves away from his case-study stars
to provide the backstory that proves this band of innovators’ experiments both dramatic and, in
DeMillo’s view, necessary. DeMillo argues that learning requires not just a teacher lecturing a class,
after all, but engagement through the “levity, brevity, and repetition” (p. 64) that sparks chemical
changes in neurons believed to establish learning (or at least brain-level change) (pp. 66-67).
Inperson instruction can achieve this ably, DeMillo notes: he is particularly complimentary of Bloom’s
Jennifer A. Kepka
Mastery Learning technique and its dramatic effectiveness when one-on-one tutoring is combined
with a “feedback-corrective instruction-retest cycle” (p. 79). Technology, DeMillo notes, now makes
this otherwise cost-ineffective method possible – if students and faculty are willing to move online.
Students are already online and ready to stay there, he surmises, but faculty and institutions
are not – at least, not yet. This is a problem DeMillo explains in the second part of the book,
“Rationale for a Revolution”, which explains the barriers not to online success but to the survival
of the current system. College budgets are complex, tuition-driven, and laden with burdens of
overwhelming labor costs and limited choices for income expansions, DeMillo explains. As state
disinvestment continues, the only way for higher education to survive is to provide more services at
lower costs – which will mean dramatic reductions in staffing. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 lay out the case
for why the current ways that colleges organize and view themselves is inaccurate and, in DeMillo’s
view, damaging. The desire for prestige and the protection of university brands has led colleges
to expand beyond their own interests, and elitism has begun to be (wrongly) assumed to equal
excellence (p. 165). Asserting that universities worldwide are infected with an elite-envy disease,
DeMillo describes how the desire for prestige has driven colleges away from serving their local
populations or contexts. While every community college ponders how it can increase its research
output, DeMillo argues, students with no interest in their instructors’ publication rates pile up debt to
pay for services they neither need nor want.
In the third part of the book, “Ramparts”, DeMillo blames administrators, faculty, and, in particular,
institutions like the American Association of University Professors for this problem. DeMillo argues
that faculty efforts to stymie innovation (under the guise of job protection) have made universities into
lumbering, inept giants, unable to respond to the rapid exponential changes of the technology age. In
addition, after pacing through recent controversial firings and free speech cases, DeMillo finds that
tenure is both ineffective at protecting faculty from being mobbed by the groupthink of their peers and
also effective at allowing institutionalists to rage against the encroachment of technology.
Overall impression and relevance to the field of distance education and e-learning
Arguments like these may draw more fire than the book’s ultimate conclusion: that something must
change, and soon, in how higher education is administered. He suggests that colleges abandon
the fruitless pursuit of further elite ranking and instead focus tightly on providing the best possible
education to the most students within the context that each institution was built to serve. For seasoned
higher education administrators and faculty members, this book will challenge many closely held
assumptions about what defines a university. That discomfort is certainly intentional, and like DeMillo’s
last book, this should provoke discussion. Unlike in his last book, however, in this book DeMillo takes
more concrete positions on what the correct next steps might be – and may, in so doing, turn off many
who have benefitted from conventions like tenure in the process.
Papers are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Anderson , T. ( 2013 ). Promise and/or Peril: MOOCs and Open and Distance Education . Vancouver: COL. Retrieved from http://hdl.voced.edu. au/10707/327825
Asociación Nacional de Universidades e Instituciones de Educación Superior (ANUIES) ( 2000 ). La Educación Superior en el Siglo XXI . Líneas estratégicas de desarrollo. Una propuesta de la ANUIES. México. Retrieved from http://www.ses.unam.mx/curso2016/pdf/12-ago-anuies.pdf
Aurah , C. ( 2013 ). The Effects of Self-efficacy Beliefs and Metacognition on Academic Performance: A Mixed Method Study . American Journal of Educational Research , 1 ( 8 ), 334 - 343 . https://doi. org/10.12691/education-1-8-11
Baessler , J. , & Schwarzer , R. ( 1996 ). Evaluación de la autoeficacia: Adaptación española de la escala de Autoeficacia General. Ansiedad y Estrés , 2 ( 1 ), 1 - 8 .
Bandura , A. ( 1994 ). Self-efficacy . In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.). Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4 , pp. 71 - 81 ). New York: Academic Press.
Bandura , A. ( 2002 ). Growing Primacy of Human Agency in Adaptation and Change in the Electronic Era . European Psychologist , 7 ( 1 ), 2 - 16 . https://doi.org/10.1027/ 1016 - 9040 .7. 1 . 2
Bartimote-Aufflick , B. , Bridgeman , A. , Walker , R. , Sharma , M. , & Smith , L. ( 2015 ). The study, evaluation, and improvement of university student self-efficacy . Studies in Higher Education , 41 ( 11 ), 1918 - 1942 . http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079. 2014 .999319
Bayeck , R. Y. ( 2016 ). Exploratory study of MOOC learners' demographics and motivation: The case of students involved in groups . Open Praxis , 8 ( 3 ), 223 - 233 . http://dx.doi.org/10.5944/ openpraxis.8.3. 282
Blaschke , L. ( 2012 ). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and selfdetermined learning . The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning , 13 ( 1 ), 56 - 71 . http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v13i1. 1076
Bruff , D. O. , Fisher , D. H. , McEwen , K. E. & Smith , B. E. ( 2013 ). Wrapping a MOOC: Student Perceptions of an Experiment in Blended Learning . MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching , 9 ( 2 ), 187 - 199 . Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no2/bruff_0613.pdf
Devonport , T. J. , & Lane , A. M. ( 2006 ). Relationships between self-efficacy, coping and student retention . Social Behavior and Personality , 34 ( 2 ), 127 - 138 . https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp. 2006 . 34 .2. 127
Dominguez Perez , D. , Sandoval Caraveo , M. C. , Cruz Cruz , F. , & Pulido Tellez , A. R. ( 2013 ). Problemas relacionados con la eficiencia terminal desde la perspectiva de estudiantes universitarios [Problems related to terminal efficiency from the perspective of university students] . REICE.